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Japanese shares sell off amid another yen spike; rest of Asia mostly lower

Most Asian stock markets lost ground on Wednesday, with the Nikkei selling off on the back of another yen spike amid disappointment with the country's latest stimulus plan.

In Japan, the Nikkei 225 closed down 308.34 points, or 1.88 percent, at 16,083.11, its lowest finish in three weeks, while the Topix fell 28.22 points, or 2.17 percent, to 1,271.98.

Across the Korean Strait, the Kospi slipped 24.24 points, or 1.2 percent, to 1,994.79. Australia's ASX 200 was off 74.83 points, or 1.35 percent, to 5,465.70, with the heavily-weighted financials sub-index selling off some 2 percent.

In Hong Kong, markets re-opened after being shut on Tuesday due to a typhoon warning. The Hang Seng index fell 1.49 percent in late afternoon trade.

Chinese mainland markets reversed early losses to close up, with the Shanghai composite adding 7.89 points, or 0.27 percent, to 2,979.17 and the Shenzhen composite gaining 8.12 points, or 0.42 percent, to 1,934.81.

Symbol
Name
Price
 
Change
%Change
NIKKEI
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HSI
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ASX 200
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SHANGHAI
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KOSPI
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CNBC 100
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In Japan, the government approved on Tuesday 13.5 trillion yen ($132.04 billion) in fiscal measures, with 7.5 trillion yen in spending by the national and local governments as part of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's 28 trillion yen fiscal stimulus package, announced last week in a bid to boost the country's moribund economy.

The package left some investors disappointed.

"Japan's keenly awaited fiscal stimulus proved to be a damp squib, disappointing yen bears who were hopeful for more forceful government spending to revitalize Abenomics," said Wei Liang Chang, a currency strategist at Mizuho Bank.

Chang said in a note to clients that while the package announced was large and was expected to lift growth in Japan in the near term, the market's expectations had been "too skewed towards a big bang helicopter announcement that would enable Bank of Japan to co-operate by expanding asset purchases."

Disappointment with the fiscal stimulus followed hard on the heels of the Bank of Japan (BOJ) on Friday surprising many market players with smaller-than-expected easing measures. The BOJ said it would increase its purchases of exchange-traded funds (ETFs), but kept interest rate unchanged and did not increase its purchases of government bonds, as had been widely expected.

That disappointment likely drove up the yield on the 10-year Japanese government bonds (JGB), which increased to negative 0.082 percent in the afternoon, compared with levels below negative 0.240 percent a week earlier. Bond yields move inversely to prices.

The yen spiked higher on Tuesday after the stimulus announcement. On Wednesday, the Japanese yen strengthened against the dollar, trading as high as 100.72 before retreating slightly to 101.23 as of 2:54 p.m. HK/SIN. This was compared with levels between 104 and 106 in the previous week.

Renewed strength in the yen against the dollar posed a "serious dilemma" for Japanese policymakers, Boris Schlossberg, managing director of foreign exchange strategy at BK Asset Management, said in a note late Tuesday.

"The pair has unwound most of the gains of the prior three weeks," he said. "Japanese authorities may be forced to once again consider intervention, although prior episodes have proved futile," said Schlossberg.

Export stocks in Japan were under pressure, likely weighed by the stronger yen, which hurts overseas profits when they are translated back into the home currency. Shares of Toyota closed down 1.88 percent, Nissan lost 3.02 percent and Sony was down 1.66 percent.

Shares of Honda, however, beat the broader index to close up 3.82 percent as investors reacted to its fiscal first-quarter earnings released on Tuesday after market close.

Honda's operating profit for the quarter was up 11.5 percent at 266.8 billion yen, compared with 239.2 billion yen registered in the same period a year earlier. The Japanese automaker said its operating profit increased due to cost reduction efforts and higher revenue associated with sales volume and model mix.

In company news, Samsung Electronics on Tuesday unveiled the large-screen Galaxy Note 7 "phablet" with a stylus pen in a bid to capture the premium end of a slowing smartphone market. However, Samsung shares remained subdued, closing down 2 percent.

Elsewhere, HSBC, one of Britain's largest lenders, reported its earnings for the first half of 2016. Profit before tax fell 28.7 percent on-year to $9.71 billion in the first half of 2016 from $13.62 billion in the same period last year. Adjusted revenue was down 4 percent on year to $27.86 billion.

The bank announced it would also conduct a share buyback of up to $2.5 billion in the second half of 2016 and said it would sustain annual dividend at current levels for the "foreseeable future."

Hong Kong-listed shares of HSBC traded up 1.57 percent in late afternoon trade.

Major Australian miner, Rio Tinto, also reported half-year earning after market close, which saw its first half underlying earnings drop 47 percent from $2.92 billion in first half 2015 to $1.56 billion in first half 2016. The miner also declared an interim dividend of 45 U.S. cents per share for first half 2016.

Shares of Rio Tinto closed near flat at 49.42 Australian dollars.

Oil prices retreated during late Asian hours, with U.S. crude down 0.08 percent at $39.48 a barrel. Global benchmark Brent futures fell 0.12 percent to $41.75.

Energy plays in Asia Pacific closed mixed, reversing some of their early losses; Santos shares finished up 1.65 percent, Woodside Petroleum ended flat at A$26.44 a share, Japan's Inpex closed down 0.27 percent and Fuji Oil Holding was off by 2.93 percent.

Kazuhiro Nogi | AFP | Getty Images

Major Australian banks sold off more than 1.9 percent each, as traders reacted to the Reserve Bank of Australia's decision on Tuesday to cut its cash rate by another 25 basis points to a record low 1.50 percent.

Shares of National Australia Bank closed down 2.82 percent, while Westpac fell 2.50 percent.

Analysts said major banks were only partially passing on benefits of the RBA's rate cut to customers.

"After the full pass through of the May rate cut, it looks like we are only seeing partial bank pass through to mortgage rates this time around, with a couple of major banks passing on just 0.1 to 0.13 percent," said Shane Oliver, head of investment strategy and chief economist at AMP Capital in a Tuesday note.

He added this might reflect the ongoing pressure on major banks to hold more capital, which is a more expensive source of funding, and compete to offer more attractive term deposits.

Oliver said for investors relying on bank interest to make money, "the decision by the RBA to cut the cash rate is not good news."

"Competitive pressures have seen some banks raise their deposit rates a bit lately. The trouble is that they are still very low," he said.

In the broader currency market, the dollar traded slightly up against a basket of currencies; the dollar index was up 0.22 percent at 95.275, compared with its last close at 95.064. The Australian dollar traded lower at $0.7580, after closing the previous session at $0.7609.

The Chinese yuan traded at 6.6300 against the dollar, after the People's Bank of China set the yuan mid-point rate at 6.6195 before market open. The Chinese central bank lets the yuan spot rate rise or fall a maximum of 2 percent against the dollar, relative to the official fixing rate.

The drop in Asia markets followed lower finishes in Europe and the U.S. overnight.

"Markets have continued to drop overnight as the third arrow of Abenomics struggles to find its target, investors continue to worry about the capital adequacy of European banks," said Angus Nicholson, a market analyst at brokerage IG.

U.S. stocks closed lower, after U.S. crude futures settled below $40 for the first time since April. The Dow Jones industrial average closed down 90.74 points, or 0.49 percent, at 18,313.77, finishing lower for the seventh straight day.

The European banking sector struggled amid investor concerns, days after the conclusion of the Europe-wide stress tests.

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